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19 Apr 2006 : Column 125

19 Apr 2006 : Column 127

Eightieth Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen

12.39 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I beg to move,

This week we celebrate the 80th birthday of one of the most respected people of our times, whose sense of duty and service has had a profound impact on our country, the Commonwealth and the world.

Years before the premature death of her father and her unexpected succession to the throne, the then Princess Elizabeth publicly dedicated her life to the service of her nation, but declared that she would need the support of the country to ensure that she could fulfil that promise. She has, as we know, carried out that pledge through all the changes, both in her life and in this country, with extraordinary grace and dedication, and her people, here and across the Commonwealth, who share in the celebration of her 80th birthday this year, have responded, as she hoped that they would, with their affection and support.

In a world that has been transformed in her lifetime, she has been a truly remarkable source of constancy and strength. Our country has faced tremendous trials, witnessed the horrors of the second world war and celebrated some extraordinary triumphs in her 80 years. Throughout, as part of the royal family and as the Queen, she has been a reassuring and unifying presence for her people.

She has also responded to a world that has become smaller and more interdependent than ever by travelling extensively. In all, the Queen has undertaken over 256 official overseas visits to 129 different countries. Her   Majesty shows no sign of slowing down. She has just undertaken her 14th tour of Australia, which included the official opening of the Commonwealth games in    Melbourne. She attends hundreds of public engagements every year and is an active patron of over 620 charities and organisations. There is simply no aspect of our national life that she does not have an interest in and a deep understanding of.

Her Prime Ministers have better reason than most to know and appreciate her knowledge and experience. I am the tenth Prime Minister to serve her. Like each of my predecessors, I am profoundly grateful for her wise counsel. She has superb judgment, an intuitive empathy with people and, above all, an unshakeable and profound sense of duty. It is that sense of duty that motivates her and defines her reign and, since it communicates itself unobtrusively but none the less obviously to her subjects, brings her the love of the people of this country.

It is difficult in this day and age for the monarchy to balance the natural demands for accessibility and openness with the dignity and majesty of the monarch, but it is a balance that she has struck with immense skill.
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So I know that I speak for the whole House and, indeed, a grateful nation when I convey to Her Majesty the Queen our best wishes on her 80th birthday and say, "Long may she reign over us."

12.43 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I am delighted to associate myself and the Opposition with the Prime Minister's generous tribute to Her Majesty. It is entirely merited. The occasion of anyone's 80th birthday is a matter for rejoicing, but this landmark in the life of Queen Elizabeth, who has reigned over our country so wisely and for so long, is a genuine cause for national celebration.

She has been our queen for 54 years. Through 1,000 years of British history, only Queen Victoria, George III, Henry III and, by a few months, Edward III have sat on the throne for a greater period. As the Prime Minister said, Her Majesty has lived in two centuries through a time of incredible transformation. She served in uniform in the second world war, presided over the dismantling of the empire and Britain's joining of the EU, and witnessed the end of the cold war and the beginning of the new millennium. She has been a rock of stability, calm and good sense in a period of the most turbulent change.

I had my first meeting as Leader of the Opposition with Her Majesty a few weeks ago. As one tries to explain what one is up to, one is acutely conscious that she has heard it all before and seen it all before. Her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill. Her first Leader of the Opposition was Clement Attlee. I am the 19th Leader of the Opposition the Queen has had to meet; I am sure that, like others, Her Majesty has no doubt noticed that the number has increased all too frequently in recent years. However, she was, as ever, far too polite to point that out.

To me, the Queen personifies two vital principles. The first is national unity. Many things divide us, but the institution of our monarchy and the integrity with which the Queen has carried out her role over almost six decades bring Britain together. I remember celebrating the silver jubilee in the village where I grew up. As a newly elected Back Bencher, I participated in golden jubilee events across my constituency, as other Members did. The Queen means as much to people of my generation as to those in previous ones, as I know that she will in future.

As head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty presides over an organisation that includes more than a quarter of the earth's population. That that community of nations has endured and thrived through such a tumultuous period in our world's history is due in no small measure to the Queen herself. She is admired and held in affection by everyone, from the most senior dignitary to the youngest schoolchild.

The second principle that the Queen embodies is public service. Throughout her reign she has displayed judgment, tolerance and absolute political neutrality. Her life has been one of selfless duty. From the moment she was born, she has lived in the public eye. I cannot think of a single occasion on which Her Majesty has done or said anything that would damage in any way the institution that she embodies. For all of us in public life, she has set the highest standards in every respect.
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In 1947, to mark her 21st birthday, the then Princess Elizabeth addressed the Commonwealth in a radio broadcast from Cape Town. In it, she made a solemn act of dedication to her people. She said:

Today, almost 60 years later, the whole House, indeed the whole world, can agree on how magnificently that vow has been fulfilled.

12.47 pm

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join the Prime Minister in congratulating Her Majesty the Queen on her 80th birthday.

Her Majesty is not only our head of state; she is the embodiment of the nation. The milestones in her life have been milestones in the lives of many of us as well. I particularly remember how her coronation after the tragic death of King George VI marked the passing of an era and the drawing of a curtain over post-war Britain. Her silver jubilee, and the golden jubilee that followed, were marked by the warmth and affection of the people of Great Britain.

Her Majesty has truly shown herself to be a steadfast guardian of her people, of the Commonwealth and of our democratic traditions. When we celebrate her birthday, we celebrate the values that have illuminated her life.

Mr. Speaker, God save the Queen.

12.48 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): First, my congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, on your return.

On behalf of many Members who cannot be in the Chamber as they have other parliamentary duties, I offer my sincere good wishes and congratulations to Her Majesty on her 80th birthday. I congratulate her on her generosity in choosing to share the day with others of her subjects who are also 80 on that day and who are at the palace with her at the moment.

Throughout Her Majesty's long reign, she has meticulously observed the important boundaries between the hereditary monarchy and the rights and powers of the elected House of Commons. We thank her and congratulate her on that. We wish her well. May she long continue in her role.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The day we were born is the day we started to grow old. The term usually applies to people of 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100, but the whole of living is one process of growing old. The baby grows old, the child grows old, the youth grows old, the mature person is growing old, and the elderly, like myself, are growing really old.

Our fathers wrote books that contemplated old age and death, and those books are worth reading. We all must leave this world. That is an unalterable fact. Old
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age, it has been well said, will be bright if we keep our souls from ageing. Sam Weller remarked of Charles Dickens' Mr. Pickwick:

He had a young soul. I hope I have a young soul, and I know, Mr. Speaker, that you are helping yourself to have a younger soul by coming back among us.

There is a question that all of us must ask today. It is a simple question: are we allowing ourselves to age in the body, but keeping our souls bright and youthful?

One of the greatest blessings of our nation is our beloved Queen, who is so youthful in her soul. She brings to us all a pleasant youthfulness of spirit. What a privilege to have such a monarch. We have been specially blessed as a nation with such a Queen. She has taught and demonstrated to us all that growing old is not a condemnation, but rather a coronation—a coronation by which we have been enriched. Her royal footprints have left behind her welcoming marks on the sands of time, which we are happy to follow.

I trust that as we leave the House today, we will remember the immortal words of the poet Browning:

I salute Her Majesty the Queen on a glorious declaration; 80 not out.

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